By Micheline Maynard
Motorists and cyclists each have their own stories to tell about each other. Drivers complain that cyclists don’t obey traffic laws and dart out of nowhere without any warning. Cyclists feel like they have targets painted on their backs every time they’re out on the road.
Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, Daniel Duane tackled the situation in his op-ed piece, “Is It O.K. To Kill Cyclists?” Of course, the headline stretched things a bit. But for many of us, Duane nailed the issue in his lede paragraph.
“Everybody who knows me knows I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it,” he wrote.
After listing a bushel basket full of bike-car accidents, Duane made a salient point.
“The social and legal culture of the American road, not to mention the road itself, hasn’t caught up,” he wrote. “Laws in most states do give bicycles full access to the road, but very few roads are designed to accommodate bicycles, and the speed and mass differentials — bikes sometimes slow traffic, only cyclists have much to fear from a crash — make sharing the road difficult to absorb at an emotional level.”He goes on to point out studies showing that in more than half of cases, motorists are at fault. While there are many laws preventing reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter, it’s rare that drivers are prosecuted in accidents involving cyclists, unless the incidents involve drunk driving.
Duane thinks the country is at a key moment in the intersection of cycling, the nation’s most popular activity behind running, and driving. With bike sharing spreading like wildfire across the United States, the issue of motorist-cycling conflict is bound to come up repeatedly, especially in cities where less-experienced cyclists are on the road.
I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve gotten back on a bike. I still haven’t ventured out beyond my neighborhood, and since we’re about to get our first snowfall of the season, I probably won’t ride much now until spring.
Ann Arbor recently has installed many new bike lanes, and there have been more under construction on some of its busiest streets. But those are also some of the places that seem the most intimidating to ride.
One veteran cyclist suggested to me that I find back routes to get places until I felt comfortable riding in traffic. While she rides to work almost every day, she stays off the roads where those bike lanes are being built, instead gliding through neighborhoods where there isn’t as much vehicle activity.
Many cyclists have told me they feel much safer riding on protected bike lanes, like the ones I’ve seen in Chicago, Montreal and in other places. But we can’t really wait for — or expect — the world to install them in mass quantities in a short period of time.
What can be done, then? Duane, in the Times, suggests this idea.
“Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation.”